To my Black and Brown People, to all the Family members,
IABD has got you. We have got each other. Who else will? Many of you have been out here doing this work for a very long time. Now we call for real change and through our collective voices, we will be heard. The International Association of Blacks in Dance has played a vital role in the lives of so many in the dance industry on a national and international level. IABD has saved lives, changed lives, provided opportunities, given hope and been a place of safety and refuge.
The annual journey to our “Mecca” the International Conference and Festival is real, and it is here that we come from behind the mask and reveal our true authentic selves. What does that look like, right now for us – to now step into our power and live our true narrative? Powerful beyond measure. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for…and the reach is so much farther and greater than one could ever imagine.
Thursday, June 4, 2020, Al Sharpton eulogized George Floyd, and he spoke of “the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed of being is because you kept your knee on our neck. We could run corporations and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck. We had creative skills, we could do whatever anybody else could do, but we couldn’t get your knee off our neck. What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country, in education, in health services, and in every area of American life. It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say get your knee off our necks."
Time has run its course and a reckoning is at hand. When there is no commitment, when there is a blatant disregard for one’s contributions, when one bears false witness, then ultimately there is an explosion, and that’s what has finally happened. BOOM. Family I repeat – ALL THE PEOPLE, ALL THE TIME.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
HARLEM by Langston Hughes
IABD members it’s time to make some power moves. Our parents, ancestors, friends and colleagues have yearned, fought and died for the promise of America and its supposed equality. But all we seem to experience and receive consistently is violence and bloodshed. This is frustrating for us all yet let’s continue to protest the undoing of racism, particularly the lynching of Black Americans in whatever form that may take on – walking, jogging, driving, birdwatching, picnicking, biking, speaking, educating, employing, just human being-ing…
America now has to address its history and the pain that we continue to feel, see and experience. The results of 401 years of historic and systemic racism have come home to roost. ALL THE PEOPLE, ALL OVER THE WORLD are marching in the streets outraged by the hatred, violence and murder that has been fueled by racism and in existence since the birth of this country. We are raw, I am raw – the wounds are exposed but I know that we gon’ be alright…Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright. Let’s nation build!
For my Co-Conspirators, because if you are reading this, you made a choice to be a part of this community. Keep pushing. Keep pushing. Keep pushing. Change comes from within and that is your very first step. Face it, own it, unlearn it and then do something about it.
Southern trees bearing a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is a fruit for the crow to pluck
For the rain to wither, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
STRANGE FRUIT recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939, written by Abel Meeropol
Black and Brown people have been protesting for centuries. You are now responsible for what happens next. And it’s not in the form of a solidarity letter or statement, secretly sliding a DM, and/or sending an email saying, “I stand with you.” You have got to do the work. The system was built entirely wrong and it has to be dismantled and rebuilt to include everyone. Change the systems. How many more lives have to be lost senselessly in order for that to happen?
The dance industry is not immune to racism and white supremacy culture, and Ballet in particular has glorified and upheld the notion of Black bodies being inferior and White bodies being superior in this field, for a very long time. Arthur Mitchell countered that proclamation with the founding of Dance Theatre of Harlem. The Black body is exquisite and beautiful. Period.
Many in our field have risked death and arrest for simply touring with a company in the South during a period when it was illegal for Black and White dancers to share the stage. Friends, what YOU can no longer do is be on the sidelines and silently stand by and watch. Your type of silence is deadly. You must fix it.
The five founding companies of IABD, Philadanco!, The Philadelphia Dance Company, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Lula Washington Dance Theatre have continued to provide opportunities for artists, administrators, choreographers, educators, scholars and supporters for a cumulative total of more than 300+ years. The influence and innovation of these companies along with the membership of IABD continues to change this field of Dance and have helped to shape the artistic careers of an entire generation of artists and arts administrators.
Our founding companies and many like them serve as dynamic community development resources above and beyond their artistic missions. Deeply vested in their communities, Black dance companies and organizations are the local book store, the voting location, the Sunday church service, the community center, and the safe haven. And yet, these organizations have historically been met with barriers to access the revenue and capital that can support their work and ensure their sustainability into the future. These challenges must cease.
Since its first inception IABD, was anticipated to be the organizational authority that would propel dancers, choreographers, educators, administrators, and Black presenters into the mainstream and with more self-sufficiency. Conceived as an outgrowth from a 1988 conference that took place with less than 100 people, and a vision of being a service/networking organization, IABD stands now in its own power. An organizing force and voice for Blacks in Dance.
IABD CALLS FOR CHANGE. NOW.
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.
I, TOO, AM AMERICA written by LANGSTON HUGHES
Can You Hear Me Now?
Denise Saunders Thompson